Laura Dern James Le Gros Jared Harris Kristen Stewart Rene Auberjonois Michelle Williams Sally Rodier Lily Gladstone
Imagine an airport in which everyone is missing their connecting flights; there are some who think they have gotten on one, only to be denied, something that seems like an accidental connection that doesn’t hold. They’ve invested in hope and are heartbroken by the outcome. This is the picture I get from Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. It gives us snippets of the characters’ lives without much explanation about how they got where they are or why they do what they do. No one is particularly happy or successful, and it looks like their lives are filled only with the routines of existence. We don’t see much passion in their lukewarm relationships, and the breakdown of one is responded to with a “Meh…”
The film is similar in structure and tone to Reichardt’s previous films, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff. The plot moves slowly with sensory information striking (e.g., beautiful landscapes and the crunching of horse hooves on the snow) but character development less so. Relationships are weak and restrained. Many like this leisurely, cool approach, but I get impatient.
Based on Maile Meloy’s short stories, Certain Women gives vignettes from the lives of three women. Laura (Dern) is plagued by a client who won’t take no for an answer, and keeps popping up unannounced at her office. He eventually gets so desperate he takes a hostage and has a standoff with the police. Even after he is in prison, he is begging her to write him, “just anything.”
Gina (Williams) is married to Ryan (Le Gros), and they have a moody teenage daughter. Ryan has just ended an affair, but is not about to leave his wife, because he “doesn’t do very well without her.” Gina desperately wants a new house with her own specifications, including sandstone, but one wonders whether the marriage will survive such a project.
The strangest tale is about Beth (Stewart), a lawyer from a lower middle class family who has made good, and has a job. But for some reason, she agrees to teach a class two nights a week on a subject of which she knows little, and has to drive four hours each way to get to the classroom and back home to show up for work the next day. Lily (Gladstone), a ranch hand, follows students into her classroom the first night, stays out of curiosity (and perhaps a crush on the teacher), and tries to establish a friendship between them.
I think in some ways, this film could be entitled “Looking for [a] Mommie” because the stories have characters who seem desperate and look to a female for attention and nurturance. The sadness is that each is disappointed—even broken-hearted—by the lack of response from the other. Certain Women is meant to be by women, about women, and for women, but it gives a distorted view of our lives. Surely, most women do not have such soulless lives as these characters. Few of the women I know or have known are as disconsolate and impassive as the three women in this film.
The performances of Dern, Stewart, Williams and Gladstone are reason enough to see this film; they evoke our sympathy and we wonder how things will turn out for them; unfortunately, we never do find out.
A film about lonely, lonely women who seem to get no satisfaction.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland